Plumbing 101: Tree Roots & Drain Invasion

Plumbing 101: Tree Roots & Drain Invasion

. 2 min read

When tree roots grow into pipes, they cause blockages that prevent water and sewage from reaching city drains. For homeowners with older clay pipes still in place, the fix is often prohibitively expensive and requires digging up at least a portion of the lawn. What should you do if you have an old house, a big tree or two on your property, and deep-rooted anxiety about it? Here's what you need to know about how to deal with a tree root problem, and how to catch it early on.

How do tree roots damage drain systems?

Tree roots are powerful and invasive, with root systems double the size of the tree they support. Roots invade pipes because they thrive on the water, nutrients, and oxygen inside, all essential ingredients for growth. Tree roots can damage pipes in three ways:

  1. Roots find existing cracks or small holes and make their way into your pipes, causing blockages.
  • Roots carve their own holes in weak pipes and grow root systems inside, causing blockages.
  • Roots grow around pipes, and their force causes pipes to bend, narrow, and eventually be crushed.

Before 1985, houses were built with clay pipes. With a short lifespan, clay is vulnerable to all sorts of issues, including cracks and holes that allow soil and tree roots to come in. Today, most plumbing systems are made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) pipes, which are resistant to roots and last for 100+ years.

How can I find out if there are roots in my drains?

The plumber you hire will use a borescope, a drain snake with a camera on the end, to capture images and determine whether or not the clog problem is coming from root invasion.

What should I do when my plumber tells me tree roots are damaging my drains?

There are 2 options for you at this point, depending on your budget.

  • The big, long-term fix: There’s no way around eventually having to dig up part of your yard and replace damaged pipes. But, you might not necessarily have to wreck your entire lawn - the borescope locates exactly where the drains are being affected and where they aren’t. With a thorough camera inspection, you will get a localized recommendation of where work needs to be done.
  • The short-term fix: If you don’t have the money to do the big, cash-heavy job when it’s recommended, you can hire a plumber to cut the roots out as a temporary fix. However, the roots will grow back much thicker than the original ones, and will present a bigger problem about a year later. Eventually, you’ll have to do the dig-up job.

What is the average cost of the big job?

$10,000 - $25,000, depending on the extent of the damage and how old your plumbing system is.

Is there any way to prevent this from happening?

We recommend that homeowners with big trees on their property get their drains checked at least every two years. If there are still some clay pipes or parts in your plumbing system, replace them as soon as you can. It's only a matter of time before they'll cause plumbing issues.